Willis Farm – Profile


Established

Owner

Paul Willis

Paul Willis still lives on the farm where he grew up, in Thornton, IA about 100 miles north of Des Moines.  Paul’s passions have always included animals and taking care of the land. It is this passion that led him to join the Peace Corp where he worked as the Young Farmers Club Organizer for the Nigerian Ministry of Agriculture.  In 1995, Paul was looking for a way to market natural “free range” pigs when he met Bill Niman. Paul wanted to revitalize traditional hog farming in the Midwest at a time when economics forced many farmers to sell out or turn to factory/confinement hog growing.  Niman Ranch offered Paul the opportunity to raise pigs the humane, old-fashioned way and these outdoor-raised pigs quickly became a favorite among Niman Ranch customers.  Today, Paul manages a network of over 500 family hog farmers.  In addition to managing the Niman Ranch pork operation, Paul still raises 2,500 Farmers’ Hybrid hogs with his wife, Phyllis, and business partner, Jon Carlson, on the Willis Free Range Pig Farm.  He also grows his own non-GMO soybeans and organic alfalfa and oats which are used for feed and bedding.

Seasons

The natural time for animals to be born is the spring.  Most pigs go to market at age 6-7 months.

Challenges

The cost of feed.  Niman Ranch tries to maintain a study supply of pork throughout the year, but it can be challenging.  It can be difficult to supply pork in July, as those pigs must be born in December, which is a tough time for births

Principles

Paul finds pig farming satisfying and fulfilling.  Paul likes interacting with the animals.  In the past ten thousands years, raising livestock has been a part of the human experience.  If his only option was factory farming, then he would not farm.

Practices

Animals that run get more oxygen in their systems.  They build different types of tissue. They are happier.  Willis’ pigs are allowed to socialize, play, root-around, and the piglets are kept with their sows for a full six weeks.   This animal friendly environment means the product tastes better.

Length of relationship with Oliveto

10 years

Location

Thornton, Iowa

Products

Hogs

Organizations

Willis is part of the San Francisco Bay area Niman Ranch Food Company.  Niman Ranch farms are independently owned.  The brand gives these farmers access to the marketplace that they would not otherwise have.

Distribution

Nationwide

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